I find myself in the curious cultural position of being an external processor. I think out loud and I learn by considering other viewpoints and talking through ideas. I sometimes put ideas out in the public sphere specifically to facilitate discussion and learn from others. But I have been accused of “trolling” (I had to actually Urban Dictionary the phrase the first time it came up) because this sometimes means posting about controversial topics. I am offended by the trolling comment because it assumes ill-intent in my motives for posting about controversial issues. As if I’m simply wanting to incite people. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I guess I can see where the accusation comes from. It’s our natural bent to avoid controversy. Unless you’re a power hungry reality television star, who believes that all press is good press. But I digress. After all, it is considered impolite to discuss religion and politics at family functions. But why? Well, because faith and politics are issues held with the head and the heart. Our beliefs become convictions. And we often can’t seem to really figure out how religion and politics go together in the first place, can we? Much less how to thoughtfully discuss issues without becoming needlessly offended or needlessly offending.
When you disagree with my political position, you also disagree with my religious position which also means that you’ve attached me personally (or so we think). Emotions are the track for these roller coaster discussions. Tempers flare from crests of emotions because to disagree with my convictions is to disagree with me. And how could any sane person believe what you just said. I’m saying you’re a moron. But . . .
We have lost the art of thoughtful dialogue. And we live in echo chambers in which we are able to surround ourselves with people and news outlets which simply reaffirm what we already believe. We surround ourselves with so may layers of people who agree with us that those who think differently are “the other” in best cases and our “enemies” in worse cases. Simply because they have a different interpretation of life and how to best structure it.
It is difficult not to become emotionally excited when dealing with people who disagree. We hold our views so personally and we believe so strongly that we are right and that so much is at stake that if I could only get through to them, of course they will end up agreeing with me because I’m right. Right?
But we must clear our heads and remind ourselves that everyone. Every. One. bears the image of God. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), each fully bearing the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and together we form a beautiful tapestry of the possible. We are made from the same dirt and we breathe the same air. Disagreement should never be associated with devaluing a person’s inherent worth, dignity and beauty either on the giving or receiving end. And yet, far too often, that seems to be exactly what we do. Every disagreement becomes so much more than just a difference of viewpoint.
Despite your firm belief otherwise, the country is not going to disintegrate if the other candidate wins. We have seen far too many years of this shallow guilt-based argument and its time to move forward. The balance of power has shifted often and somehow the country has survived, and some might even say, has become stronger than ever. Even when the other guy won. Every election can’t be the most important election of our lifetime heralding the end of civilization as we know it if the other guy wins.
This type of argument is simply poor logic wrapped in fear. Fear is easy. And fear is effective. Fear often supersedes critical thinking. Fight or flight. Act now, no time to consider. Fear is powerfully easy and powerfully effective. It is difficult to thoughtfully engage views other than our own. It’s easier and quicker to play on fear because fear is not only tied to our emotions but our sense of self-preservation. Because we equate our views with self, we fear those who disagree. We perceive disagreement as a threat to our well-being instead of just another way of looking at/doing things.
Humility is the necessary ingredient for any thoughtful dialogue. We must swallow our pride enough to remember that the person who disagrees is equally in need of grace. The key here is not to focus on how much they need grace but how much we need grace. Who are we to think that we are somehow better than someone who believes differently? We must swallow our pride enough to remember that when someone disagrees with my beliefs, they are not necessarily attacking me as a person. Granted, they may simply be immature and they may actually be attacking you as a person but this is a character defect on their part, not reflective of your worth. You don’t need to respond with vitriol because you’ve been given grace (Ephesians 2). We been blessed and charged with reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) and your worth and value are not based on someone who can’t separate disagreement on issues from personal attack. We are called to love them even if they put us down (Matthew 5:44).
When we pursue humility, we are able to listen more than we speak (James 1:19). We will even seek out opinions different from our own (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6, etc.)because we realize that we’ll never really grow when everyone we listen to simply tells us how right we already are.
I believe that this humility is found most clearly in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself by taking on obedient human flesh, bearing our sins and their punishment (Philippians 2), exchanging His righteousness for our sinfulness (2 Corinthians 5:21), forgiving us so we can forgive others (Ephesians 4:32). But whatever your belief system, I encourage you to seek out humility. The world will be a much better place when we all stop thinking so highly of ourselves. When we stop thinking so highly of ourselves, we will be offended less by disagreement; something which shouldn’t necessarily offend us at all.
I encourage you to make a friend who believes differently than you. Then love one another well enough to listen. You don’t have to agree but if you can’t articulate their reasoning the same way they would, are you really in any real position to offer a counterpoint? If making friends is difficult for you then consider starting by choosing a media outlet that makes you uncomfortable and just listen.
I hope this doesn’t sound preachy because I by no means have this all figured out. But for years, I have internally processed issues by externally processing them. Through your thoughtful feedback and discussion, you have helped me shape, grow and sometimes change my views. Thank you. I want to hear and consider perspectives other than my own. All the better if we flat out disagree. Help me understand why but don’t treat me like I think less critically than you or that I am somehow less valuable or faithful if we disagree. We may never agree but let’s respect one another enough to listen and understand as best we can.
So when I post about controversial topics, please know that I’m doing so because I want us all to have a good understanding of why we believe what we do and what that means for real life. Every political season presents opportunities to further shape our opinions. If you want to be more than a party loyalist, you are repeatedly challenged to understand people and their positions. This election cycle in particular seems to present more room for dialogue than usual. Let’s make the most of it, try to understand each other and work together for a society we can all be thankful for.